For the past several years, I’ve been walking around with a wallet that is actually the insert for a larger one. At first this was because wallets just seemed bigger than they should be, But over the years I realized that I’ve never found a wallet that really anticipates my behaviors well. For example, being able to reach into my pocket to get my driver’s license or cash without having to pull out the entire wallet. I’ve also never had a wallet in which I can hold business cards without mashing their edges. There are other issues, but those seem to rise to the top.

In true Adaptive Path fashion, I decided it was time to do some rapid prototyping. I started with paper prototypes which I unfolded and used to create a fabrication drawing. I then sent it off to a leather guy to make a better prototype. Regrettably, the fabricator did not fully understand the project, despite lots of notation on the fabrication spec, and I got back something that was worse than my paper version. The dimensions were off and it was made from thick leather that made the wallet too big and stiff. The lesson I took away from this is that you should always try and make the prototype yourself if possible because you understand your goals better than you can possibly explain in a spec. So, I decided that I’d look into making a prototype that was better than paper, but which didn’t require special tools. That’s when the duct tape came in. I’d seen duct tape wallets before so I decided to try making one myself.

I liked the basic design of the insert wallet I had, but it needed some adjustments. Below you can see images of my old wallet next to the prototype I created. I’ve only been using it for one day but I already know I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve turned up a couple issues that will impact my next prototype as well. Yay for prototypes! Let me know what you think!

Old Wallet Inside View – As you can see the cash is simply folded in the middle which allows you to peel off bills like a bill fold. I used to use a bobby pin to keep the cash in, but ultimately found that it was unnecessary. Also, I liked being able to take the cash out of my pocket without the wallet (this requires that you put the wallet in your pocket with the open end up).



Prototype Wallet Inside View – As you can see it’s very similar, though instead of using clear plastic that tears easily, I opted for triangular thumb pulls which make getting the cards out easier.



Old Wallet Inside View Without Cash – here’s what it looks like without cash in it (I hate it when that happens)



Prototype Wallet Inside View Without Cash – same.




Old Wallet Outside View – you can see here that the driver’s license is held on the outside, which I really liked. This way you can quickly reach into your pocket and pull out just the license.


Prototype Wallet Outside View – I kept the license on the outside, but added a pocket on the other side for business cards rather than keeping them on the inside like in the old wallet. This allowed me to create a flap of material over the entire business card that keeps the edges clean (note that the pocket in which the license sits leaves the edge of the license exposed). My next version will add a thin plastic card over the business cards to protect them even more.



Old Wallet Side View – The old one was pretty thin, which I really liked.



New Wallet Side View – the new one is slightly thinner because of the material used. Ultimately, I might have this fabricated from a thin, durable, and slightly stretchy cardura.




Here are some other interesting thin wallets:

Wallet Pens

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15 Comments to Putting Your Design Where Your Money Is: A Prototype Wallet

  1. MikeWhoBikes says:

    Well done! I’m always reaching into my pocket and opening my wallet a bit to pull out a couple of commonly used cards. The problem isn’t so much getting them out, but putting them back into the wallet which is a much trickier in-pocket maneuver. Pockets on the outside seems like a great idea. Maybe an elastic across the middle to hold the bills in place while still giving easy access?

    Do you have any thoughts on the organization of the cards? It would be nice to have some sort of tab system to retrieve a card from the stack without having to pull them all out.

  2. One design consideration is that overseas currency is often larger than American currency.

    What I do, wherever I go, is keep my wallet–similar to yours–in my front pocket. Therein I store the large bills. Any time I break a large bill (ex: $20US) the change goes in my back pocket. This allows me to keep my wallet securely in my front pocket while having change accessible in the back. On the one occasion I have been pick-pocketed (in Bangkok) a “prostitute” ran up and tried grabbing at my groin. I kept my mind on my wallet and hustled away quickly without wanting to make a scene. Then I realized that she had successfully extracted a few dollars from my back pocket, which I regarded as a success for all involved.

    The other benefit of building your own prototype is that you can share it with the leather maker, who may more easily understand what you are trying to achieve. Congratulations!


  3. Stephanie says:

    My wallet is just an insert for a larger one too! I really like your design though I would swap the driver’s license panel for a clear plastic one to keep my bus pass in so I wouldn’t have to fish it out to flash it to the driver.

    I often think about how hard it is to communicate between different industries, it’s like we think differently than leather workers (imagine that), I liked your anecdote, thanks for sharing.

  4. Loren says:

    As a wallet minimalist myself, I think this is an awesome idea. It would be interesting to do some ethnographic research: try out various combinations of wallet setups, using money clips, billfolds, prototype wallets, etc. I’ve just ordered one of these: but it’s apparently on backorder. Until then, I’ve gone ultra minimal and use just a rubber band to hold it all together. I’d recommend giving it a shot. It’s pretty successful, but wrecks business cards.

  5. Henrik Lied says:

    You should check out the Norwegian company Exentri – they have some of the most practical wallets I’ve ever used.

  6. Karl Fast says:

    Try the All-Ett.

    The design tries to be as thin as possible. The design seems similar to your prototype.

    I got mine a year ago. Best wallet I’ve ever had, by miles.

    I have two models. The European is for everyday. This is their thinnest, lightest, most minimal design. It holds cash and all the cards I need for daily life. I also have the Traveler, which has a large passport pocket, making it great to international travel. I keep it in my travel bag along with special cards, like my frequent flyer card and things like that.

    I did a lot of looking for a better wallet. I wanted something that was (a) thin, (b) minimalist, (c) provided quick access to things I used a lot and (d) wouldn’t fall apart. I looked at quite a few, including the Slimmy and the BigSkinny (ick!). The All-Ett was the best design for my criteria. It is too minimalist for many people, but for me, it’s terrific.

  7. Ramesh says:

    Being a wallet minimalist myself I’m on the lookout for a wallet that will allow me to keep my cards (at least 10) along with some cash, and not be extremely bulky. Most designs I’ve attempted however do not manage to solve this problem neatly… I’ve tried from the card holder only (single, double and folded) to the card and cash.

    Out of curiosity, how many cards can your prototype hold?

  8. Roland says:

    Great comments everyone!

    Here are some quick responses to your questions:

    MijeWhoKies – I’ve tried the elastic, but it makes getting the cash out of your pocket (without the wallet) impossible. Same with the bobby pin bill fold thing. I’ve never had the cash drop out on me, or fall out in my pocket …. but I don’t wear really baggy pants. In terms of organizing the cards, I keep all the credit cards on one side and all the other cards (bus, costco, etc) in the other. Then the license outside and the business cards outside. I’ve seen some wallets with a pull tab to pull out cards, but my triangular pull seems to work pretty well and is simpler.
    Daniel – Good point about overseas currency. That’s definitely an issue. In terms of change I tend to do the same thing. I reach in for large bills and put the change in another pocket. Later when I’ve got time to kill I tend to organize the bills and face then in the wallet. I like doing this because ordering things relaxes me, and because it reminds me how much cash I have on hand.
    Stephanie – smart minds think alike! One comment on the clear plastic. I’ve found that bouncers usually require that you take it our anyways …. which defeats the purpose of the clear window.
    Loren – thanks for the link I’ll check that out.
    Henrik – you too!
    Karl – I’ll check it out.
    Ramesh – my prototype holds about 6 business cards, and 12 cards total (including the drivers license)

  9. lisa says:

    You know those sky mall catalogs you never read on the plane? Well, turns out they have the perfect wallet: Actually it’s a money clip, but it’s pretty slim and can hold just 1 or many credit cards without having them falling out.

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  11. Kris vs says:

    Maybe you need a new medium?? My 11 year old son made himself a duct tape wallet. Lot’s of color choices, a very durable and available resource, and I’m sure you could create it exactly to your specifications. Here’s a link on how to make a “regular” wallet with duct tape.

  12. Patricia says:

    I like it. I am not familiar with materials, but would want one that didn’t stretch and lose it’s shape so cards started falling out (my current dilemma). Also, I was just thinking last night that I need to really design my own purse. None of my bags satisfy my needs. Either they are too big or too small, have too many compartments and not enough space or too much space not enough compartments. Or my cell phone or PDA doesn’t fit a compartment, and then there isn’t one for my mp3 player (I’m old fashioned so I still have 3 separate units.) Okay, so I need to start prototyping my new purse.

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